Kim Jung Gi, the famed South Korean illustrator, died on October 3 in Paris at age 47.
He was beset with sharp chest pains on his way to the airport to attend New York Comic Con, according to a post on his Instagram page. He died in the hospital soon after.
Renowned for his ability to draw sprawling, densely populated landscapes full of people, tanks, buildings, superheroes and animals, all without use of references, Kim toured the world drawing live in front of audiences. He had just finished up one such tour, staged at Galerie Daniel Maghen in Paris.
“After having done so much for us, you can now put down your brushes,” wrote his collaborator, Hyun Jin Kim, in the same Instagram post.
Kim Jung Gi was born in 1975 in Gonyung-Su, South Korea, a city just south of Seoul. From a young age, he showed an incredible aptitude for drawing and at 19, he entered Dong-Eui University in Busan to pursue a major in arts and design. Kim was known for his excellent memory which contained an enormous library of images that he could draw from at a moments notice. He began building his visual library as a child, as he often recounted in interviews.
“Sneakers, a bicycle, a motorcycle… It began with an obsession for things I wanted to have but couldn’t,” he told the Korea Times in 2021. “For the type of running shoes I wanted, I would collect their photos in magazines, closely observe my friend’s pairs and touch them to learn their shapes from different angles. I would then turn them into drawings that I could own.”
This process continued as he grew older. During his mandatory two-year military service, for example, he was able to commit to memory various military vehicles and weaponry that would later appear in his drawings he made throughout the course of his career.
After his military service, he began his career working as an artist drawing for manhwa (Korean comic books), either illustrating short graphic stories or taking on larger projects written by the likes of Seung-Jin Park and French author Bernard Werber. He eventually became a manhwa teacher.
But it was drawing in front of a live audience for the first time that proved to be a pivotal moment in his career. It was 2011 at the Comic Con in Bucheon and Kim began to draw. Hyun Jin Kim, the CEO of Superani, which publishes art books, offers classes, and organizes live drawing sessions, filmed Kim at work. The video went viral as artists, comic book lovers, and everyone in between marveled at his almost magical ability to create perfect drawings with his pen brush without references, sketches, or any other kind of preparatory work. From then on, invitations to draw live and demand for his expertise skyrocketed. He once even did a live drawing at Christie’s in 2014.
Kim would go on to publish six books of compiled sketchbook drawings, including one book dedicated entirely to his erotic work, totaling 4,500 pages in 12 years. He would go on to draw for Marvel and DC Comics and held the Guinness World Record for the longest drawing by an individual in the Fisheye Art category. It took him four days to complete, according to his European fan website.
Many artists, fan, and professionals gathered online to commemorate his sudden passing.
“It was downright eerie and spellbinding to see someone with a near photographic memory bring an illustration to life with the style and flair that only Jung Gi could deliver,” DC Comic’s Chief Creative Officer, Jim Lee, recounted in a long Twitter thread about Kim. “It’s still unbelievable to me that he is gone. We were going to meet up again just this Saturday again to celebrate [his appearance at Comic Con].”